Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Edwards Admits Affair

Aired August 8, 2008 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


Frank writes: "Come on, Jack. Everybody needs a vacation. The timing is never perfect. You just have to get up and go. I haven't taken a vacation in over three years and it shows. My wife and kids hate me."
And Michele in Dallas says: "Why not? Isn't the rest of the Senate all on vacation -- except John McCain?"

Which is true.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

If you have any thoughts on this John Edwards thing, you can go there and weigh in. We're going to do a question about it in the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and vent your thoughts on the John Edwards admission that he's been having an extra- marital affair. It's a story that's been around for almost a year and he finally copped to it in an interview with ABC News. We'll be doing a little more right after the top of the hour -- back to you, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thanks you very much, Jack.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And happening now, more on the breaking news -- the political rumor exploding into reality. The former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, telling ABC News it's true. It is true, in fact. He says he did have an extra-marital affair over the past couple of years.

Also, the U.S. deeply concerned as Russia launches ground and air attacks on the neighboring Republic of Georgia. And they're sparking fear right now of an all-out war.

And imagine being desperately ill, calling 9/11 and no one comes. It happened to one woman. She died when rescuers went to the wrong address in the wrong town.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's continue with the breaking news this hour. An explosion rocking the political landscape. The former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, now confirming months of speculation, admitting to ABC News he did, in fact, have an extra-marital affair -- a charge he repeatedly denied, as recently as two weeks ago.

We're awaiting a formal statement from Senator Edwards. That should be coming in soon.

Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit has been working this story for some time now.

Let's go to Drew and find out what he's been learning -- Drew, it's shocking to a lot of our viewers out there, given his very squeaky clean reputation as a devoted, loving family man.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Not only that, Wolf, but because of his absolute denials, brushing this aside as lies and tabloid trash for so long. And, quite frankly, a lot of people believed him until now.

But really what this came down to was two weeks ago he was caught sneaking out of the Beverly Hilton Hotel at 2:40 in the morning and he had nothing to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The Edwards story has been fodder of the "National Enquirer" for more than a year. The headlines show why -- a presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator with a cancer-stricken wife has an affair and, according to the tabloid, fathers a child with this woman, a campaign consultant named Rielle Hunter.

John Edwards had dismissed the "National Enquirer" allegations. This is what he said last month in New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no idea what you're asking about. I've responded to -- consistently to these tabloid allegations by saying I don't respond to these lies. And you know that. And then you covered me and I stand by that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: The pressure had been mounting on Edwards for several weeks since new stories appeared about a confrontation with the "National Enquirer" here at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last month. On July 21st, the former senator was in Los Angeles raising awareness for the homeless. That night, "National Enquirer" reporter Alex Hitchens was waiting for Edwards at the hotel. The paper says it had a tip Edwards, Rielle Hunter and Hunter's baby were meeting in a room.

At 2:40 in the morning, Hitchens says he surprised Edwards as he was trying to leave.

ALEX HITCHENS, "NATIONAL ENQUIRER": I say to him, Mr. Edwards, Alexander Hitchens from the "National Enquirer." You know, we know that you've been Rielle Hunter tonight and your child. And then we said to him, don't you think it's about time to actually tell everyone that you are actually the father of this child? GRIFFIN (on camera): And the reaction again was?

HITCHENS: Sheer panic.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Hitchens says Edwards did not say a word. Instead, he ran down the stairs, into this bathroom and held the door shut. Wednesday, the tabloid published this blurry photograph -- a photo the paper claims was shot in the Beverly Hilton Hotel on the night of July 21st. The paper says the baby in the picture is Edwards'.

There is confirmation this baby is Hunter's. And Edwards told ABC News Hunter's child could not be his because of the timing of the birth. But the former senator said he has not taken a paternity test. And this man, Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign staffer, said last year the child is his, not Edwards'.

Still, the child's birth certificate adds to the injury. The name of the child's father is left blank.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

GRIFFIN: And, Wolf, just last week, we tried to get a comment from John Edwards. He was speaking at a hotel in Washington, D.C. . And, uncharacteristically, he snuck in, snuck out out of sight of our cameras. We couldn't get a question to him. And I think this just built up to a head. He couldn't avoid it any longer.

BLITZER: But as you say, in this interview now with ABC, that ABC is releasing today, he flatly denies that he's the father of this child. He says the timing, going back to when the child was born, simply wouldn't work out, as far as he was concerned, although he says he hasn't taken a paternity test.

GRIFFIN: Yes. We're still waiting for a statement from John Edwards to see what else he says. I mean the big question is, you know, he says he wasn't in love with this woman and that the affair apparently happened a while ago.

What's he doing in the hotel room, Wolf just a couple of weeks ago with this woman so late at night?

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Drew.

We're going to be getting back to you. His former campaign manager, the former congressman, David Bonior, is quoted in an Associated Press article as having this reaction to this shocking news about John Edwards. Bonior says this: "Thousands of friends of the senator's and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him and he's let them down. They've been betrayed by his action."

Very strong words from David Bonior, the former congressman, the former campaign manager for John Edwards' campaign.

Let's continue our coverage of the breaking news. I want to bring in Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and "The Washington Post" -- Howie, as you know, the "National Enquirer" has been reporting this for some time. But virtually no major national news organization -- not "The Washington Post" or "The New York Times" or "The Wall Street Journal" or CNN or ABC or NBC or any of the major national news organizations touched it, really, until today, when John Edwards publicly told ABC News, you know what, the extra-marital affair is true, although he denied fathering the child.

What do you make of it?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": Well, it's been a real quandary for news organizations, Wolf. "The Washington Post" has grappled with this. I can tell from the piece you just ran that CNN spent a lot of time looking into this.

But here's the deal. You had two people denying it. We now know John Edwards has acknowledged that he was lying. Edwards said it didn't happen. Rielle Hunter, his former campaign videographer, said it didn't happen. It appeared in the "National Enquirer," which has accurately broken a number of major stories, but still has the kind of taint of a supermarket tabloid that pays for stories.

And so it seemed that everybody was waiting for someone else to break the ice.

Meanwhile, this is what I call often an open secret. This was all over the Internet. It was increasingly in the North Carolina press. But not, as you say, in most major national news organizations.

BLITZER: Is it because, you know, he denied it, she denied it. And the "National Enquirer," I believe -- correct me if I'm wrong -- also pays for information and, as a result, maybe a lot of national news organizations said that their information might be suspect?

KURTZ: I think that was definitely a factor. In fact, the editor of the "National Enquirer" told me that the newspaper did pay for some information in this case. They didn't who was paid.

I think -- I don't believe for a moment that this has anything to do with Edwards being a Democrat or even a likable Democrat, as some critics, particularly online, have charged.

But I do think this from a number of conversations -- private conversations with journalists. I think there's a lot of sympathy that we have, and, of course, that much of America has for Elizabeth Edwards, who has an incurable form of cancer. And I think that may have limited the appetite just a bit for going hard after this story.

And one of the things, I think, that makes this story so devastating for John Edwards -- it's not just the fact that he lied, not just the fact that he had an affair, but that Elizabeth and her battle against her disease was such a front and center part of his presidential campaign. We all saw the pictures. We all remember that live news conference when they came out and talked about how the cancer had recurred. And for him now to acknowledge that he had this affair with somebody who worked for his campaign, a lot of people are going to have trouble getting past that.

BLITZER: As one of the best media critics out there, you know what, the criticism coming in especially from the conservatives from the right is that John Edwards is a liberal and the "liberal news media" would protect him, as if this had -- if these allegations involved a conservative, it would have been a far different story.

KURTZ: Yes. You know, some people point for example, to Larry Craig, the Idaho senator who got caught in that men's bathroom mess. But there you had an arrest. You had a guilty plea, at least initially. It something that was clearly corroborated.

Here, you didn't have that corroboration. The "National Enquirer" had it. We didn't have it. CNN didn't have it. "The Washington Post" didn't have it.

I don't believe the fact that John Edwards is a Democrat has anything to do with this. I do think the fact that he has a wife who is battling an incurable disease may have something to do with this. And I also think that all these organizations were waiting for some kind of admission, some kind of corroboration, some kind of incontrovertible evidence to go with this story.

BLITZER: And that happened today when he told ABC News that yes, in fact, he did have an extra-marital affair.

All right, thanks very much, Howie, for that.

Howie is going to have a lot more on this story coming up on Sunday morning on "RELIABLE SOURCES," 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

The stunning new development could have a dramatic political impact, as well.

Let's continue our coverage with our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, and Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos.

Paul, there's going to be political fallout, as you well know.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not a lot, actually. He's not running for anything. He's not -- he doesn't hold any public office. He's not seeking any public office. He is a public figure. This is why we're covering it like a world war. But, no, I don't think -- there's not a huge -- this is nothing endemic to being a Democrat or a Republican here. This is the human condition.

BLITZER: It's a sad -- a very sad human story.

BEGALA: It's a terrible sad story, for his wife, for -- even for Senator Edwards, who is a guy who's (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Do you believe it ends his political career?

BEGALA: No.

BLITZER: You think he can make a comeback?

BEGALA: Sure. You know, the -- the only -- maybe one of the few dumb things F. Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote was that there are no second acts in American life. There are second and third and fourth acts. And I don't want to disparage others, but there are prominent politicians in America today who have committed the very same sin and after repairing their family, or moving on to start a new marriage, have been able to pursue successful careers in public life.

BLITZER: Assuming he wants to have a political future, Alex -- and put your hat on as an adviser, as a strategist for politicians, which you've been doing excellently for so many years -- what advice would you give him and his family right now, assuming he wants to have a second act?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Take care of first things first. He just needs to get out of the political scene. Go home. He's got a, you know, a wife with a serious health situation. Go home and take care of that. Do not think about politics.

I think it may end his political career because it's not just a mistake that others have made. It's in the face of, I think, of a terrible situation for his family and his wife. And I think it shows just horrible judgment in that sense. And I think a lot of people may see it that way.

So I think, politically, it is more damaging than ordinarily it would be.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this, John McCain is about to have a little news conference. And we're going to be monitoring it here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You know reporters are going to ask him about it.

These are the live pictures coming in. You see the American flags behind the podium right there.

If you're John McCain, Alex, and you're asked to comment on the John Edwards bombshell today -- his acknowledging he did, in fact, have an extra-marital affair, what do you say?

CASTELLANOS: You don't react, as a politician. You react as a human being, as someone who's been out on the campaign trail with this family as somebody who's, you know, their wives, I'm sure, have chatted and gotten to know each other in this process.

You know, these candidates are tested against each other, but they're also tested with each other on the campaign trail. They develop a respect, I think, for each other. And I think this would be a time to reach out one family to another.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BEGALA: Well, I think that's right. In fact, I would even do less. The less said the better.

BLITZER: So what should he say, if you were advising him? BEGALA: He should say no comment, it's none of my business. That's what he should say. Because, there's a very slight risk, if he talks about it, that voters will wrongly believe that he was pushing it. He wasn't. I'm not suggesting that.

But I remember when Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas -- and I don't know if it made the papers where you live, but there was a woman who accused him of having an affair.

BLITZER: I seem to remember something about it.

BEGALA: It was in the papers. Poor Tom Harkin, one of his primary opponents, was asked about it and he commented basically almost no comment.

I had a lot of voters think that poor Senator Harkin was pushing that story, which he was not.

So you don't want to give the voters the wrong impression that somehow you're pushing this story or somehow gleeful about it. And I just think I'd say no comment, it's none of my business, I'm here to talk about my message.

BLITZER: All right. We're just getting in the statement, by the way. They're about to bring me the statement from John Edwards. And once we get it, I'm going to read it to our viewers. And I want both of you to stand by and assess what we're about to hear from John Edwards.

But, you know, this is a moment -- this is a moment right now where Barack Obama is going to certainly be asked about this and it's going to be a question that momentarily we're going to hear from Senator McCain, as well, because he's going to be asked about it. And it will be intriguing to see how they react. I guess Barack Obama is sort of lucky. He's gone on vacation in Hawaii. He's about to land there. And he may be going underground for a few days. Right now, this is the last kind of subject he would want to discuss.

All right, here's the statement from Senator Edwards. I'll read it. I'll read it slowly so our viewers can digest it, as well, and then we'll assess what John Edwards is now saying: "August 9, 2008, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Statement from Senator John Edwards. In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public.

When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough."

Edwards goes on to say this: "I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices and I had hoped that it would never become public. With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006. And today I take full responsibility publicly. But that misconduct took place for a short period in 2006. It ended then.

I am and have been willing to take any tests necessary to establish the fact that I'm not the father of any baby and I am truly hopeful that a test will be done so this fact can be definitively established. I only know that the apparent father has said publicly that he is the father of the baby.

I also have not been engaged in any kind of activity of any description that requested, agreed to or supported payments of any kind to the woman or to the apparent father of the baby."

A couple of more paragraphs in this statement: "It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry. In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.

If you want to beat me up, feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I've already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help."

A final sentence from John Edwards: "I have given a complete interview on this matter, and having done so, will have nothing more to say."

That statement from John Edwards, a very -- a very lengthy statement, Paul Begala, from John Edwards, a statement, obviously, very painful and difficult for him to write.

BEGALA: Yes. As a former speechwriter who's unfortunately had to work on some of these types of statements, I would have hit the block delete button. I don't want to be disrespectful, but Senator Edwards told us way too much. My kids would say TMI, right, too much information.

He needs to say I'm sorry. He needs to say I lied and he needs to say I'm going to go repair my family and my marriage. And that's it. I would not have gone into -- I don't want to know what kind of tests is he going to take and all that. Good lord.

It seemed -- didn't you think, Alex, it was just too much?

CASTELLANOS: I think this is a political statement and not a personal statement. And as a political statement, that makes it less honest than something real from a human being. And, you know, 99 percent honest in a statement?

That's -- that's -- is he Ivory soap?

What is this?

Disappointing.

BLITZER: All right. Just stand by for a minute, because I want Jack Cafferty to weigh in, as well -- Jack, you heard the statement as I read it.

Do you agree with Alex and Paul?

CAFFERTY: Well, I'm -- they had slightly differing views. I'd be more inclined to agree with Alex. I -- you know, the thing that occurs to me is that he made a decision to run for president with this stuff lying in the background and lied about it during the time that he was soliciting our support for the biggest office in the country.

People hitch their wagons to these people. Edwards is a very charismatic guy -- smooth, persuasive, charming, glib. People quit their jobs to go and volunteer and work on these campaigns because they inspire some kind of hope inside them, that, you know, they can change the world and make it a better place.

And all the time he's packing this suitcase full of garbage around with him. And at some point, it's going to come out.

And now there was talk about him maybe being on Obama's short list for vice president. Maybe he'd be the attorney general in an Obama cabinet, if Obama wins the election. And he's got this thing that he's dragging around with him. And I think it's unconscionable.

BLITZER: You know, a couple of things, Jack, jump out at me from this very carefully written statement that John Edwards has just released. Among them, the biggest things, is at the end, almost the self -- the psychological self-examination that he goes through. "In the course of several campaigns," he says, "I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up, feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself."

You know, it's almost as if he's been going through some psychological treatment himself trying to understand what's going on.

CAFFERTY: Well, I would think. I mean this thing has been around since -- the "Enquirer" started fooling with this story in October of 2007. That's almost a year ago. And then a few weeks back, he was caught in this horrible situation coming out of this hotel and ran and locked himself in a bathroom and had to be escorted out by hotel security.

I mean that stuff has got to do funny things between your ears at 3:00 in the morning. And you're trying to keep all of this stuff a secret. I can't imagine that it's been a very pleasant emotional time for him to be carrying around the guilt.

And this -- the whole thing -- the point that Howard Kurtz made about, one, the reluctance of the mainstream media to go hard after this story because of a consideration of the condition that his wife is in, I mean that's -- that makes this whole thing worse than it might be if Elizabeth Edwards was a healthy woman. It just does.

You don't do this kind of stuff when you have a woman at home suffering from cancer. It's just, you know -- yes, I -- yes, he says beat me up if you want. He'll get beaten up. In the end, he turned out to be too good to be true. John Edwards rode out onto the national stage with his charming, bright smile, a compelling message about poverty. He had fought and defeated big corporations that preyed on the vulnerable. He had a record of standing up for the little guy. And he got very, very rich in the process.

He was tailor-made for politics -- a good-looking guy. He had that sort of aw shucks country boy down home charm. He got to the Senate, he got onto the ticket as vice president in 2004. He was in the running for the White House himself earlier this year. Now it's all over.

After denying it for months, he's finally admitted in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC's "Nightline" that he had this extra-marital affair with a woman who worked on his campaign.

When the "National Enquirer" first reported this, in October of 2007, he denied everything. He said at the time, the story is false, it's completely untrue, it's ridiculous. He was lying through his teeth.

It's interesting, too, to note, this story breaks late on a Friday. The ABC interview will be broadcast later tonight -- the same night that the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games will be running on NBC.

None of this is an accident. He's a politician to the end. Speculation around Edwards included a possible spot on the Obama ticket as vice president, maybe as attorney general, as I mentioned, in his cabinet. By tomorrow morning, John Edwards will be lucky to get his calls returned by Howard Dean's housekeeper.

The question is this -- and I guess we were talking about it a few minutes ago -- is John Edwards' political career now over?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

We're going to continue to watch this story.

But we're also watching other news as well, including Russian tanks rolling into the Republic of Georgia, threatening U.S. interests, including oil and even the war in Iraq. The Bush administration very concerned, fearing all-out war.

Also, children scarred by some of the worst terror attacks of recent years find a unique place to heal.

And that statement from John Edwards that we just read to you, now admitting he lied about having an affair. We'll continue to follow the breaking news.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. You're looking at live pictures of John McCain. He's at a news conference in Rogers, Arkansas right now. He's campaigning for that state. Now, he's answering reporters' questions on energy right now. But we anticipate that one of those reporters will almost certainly ask him about the breaking news we've been following here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- the confirmation now, the acknowledgment by John Edwards that he did, in fact, have an affair back in 2006 with a woman and a statement that John Edwards has just released saying that he's very, very sorry about all of this. He denies, though, fathering a child that this woman delivered just a few months ago.

Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, is watching this story -- if he's asked, Gloria, about this story, we're going to go listen in to see -- to get his reaction.

But it's -- I know you've had a chance to take a close look now at the statement that John Edwards released. It's a very lengthy statement. We had some of our male political analysts assessing what we just heard. I wonder what you think.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's funny you should say that, Wolf, because I'm thinking I need to hear what Elizabeth Edwards is going to say. And I also think that this statement is very vague about when he actually told her.

He said, "With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006 and today I take full responsibility publicly."

But we don't know when he told Elizabeth Edwards.

Was it because the "National Enquirer" had done this story?

Was it before he began to run for the presidency in earnest this time around?

Is it something that they had discussed and they had put in their past and that she's squared away with at this point?

Or is this something that he lied about until he could no longer lie about it anymore, because it was becoming public?

Those are the kinds of questions that I think people ask, particularly women, as I know you were discussing before about his political future.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, if Elizabeth Edwards, his wife, comes out in some sort of statement or together with him holding hands...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...and says you know what, I forgive him. It was awful, it was terrible, but we have a lot of history, I love this man and I'm willing to go forward with this marriage -- as we've seen women of other political politicians come out and defend their husbands.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: What does that -- what will that do?

BORGER: I think that's going to be very important to John Edwards. So far, Elizabeth Edwards' silence during this whole matter has been deafening. I remember, of course, though when Hillary Clinton came out, famously, and defended Bill Clinton talking about the right- wing conspiracy and became Bill Clinton's biggest defender in his case with Monica Lewinsky. And I think that's one of the reasons that Bill Clinton survived politically.

And so I think right now it's in Elizabeth Edwards' hands. And we -- we don't know the entire story of the chronology of this, quite frankly. And we -- you know, she is a huge piece of this puzzle. And we have to wait and see how she reacts if, indeed, she does react.

If she doesn't react, that's a story in and of itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And she's such a lovely lady, so sympathetic in so many areas, accomplished in her own right. Unfortunately, now going through inoperable cancer. And, you know, your heart has to go out to her and to the kids involved, especially, in this scandal.

BORGER: Absolutely. And I think that, you know, again, we don't know why this story broke right now. We don't know whether John Edwards knew about it, told his staff about it.

From David Bonior's statement, it seems to me that this was something that he hadn't told his top advisers about.

You know, normally when you run for president, Wolf, the first question, as you know better than I do is, do you have anything to hide from us, right?

BLITZER: Right.

BORGER: And you sit with your staff and you answer that question.

Well, was this asked and not answered at that time?

BLITZER: Because when they're vetting people, not only for vice president, let's say, but for any senior cabinet position, any important political position -- Paul Begala, you're here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. You've been -- you've gone through this. One of the first questions you always ask is, is there anything in your history that, if it became public, could embarrass the president of the United States?

BEGALA: Right. In fact, that's the last question when you do the full-field FBI background check.

This -- this was not a federal case, right? He wasn't -- again, he -- once he stood down from his presidential campaign, he wasn't seeking any elected office. He doesn't hold any elected office. So, I think he might now be able to claim a little bit more of a right to privacy. But -- but I think -- I think Gloria's points were right, that, politically, all of this makes poor Elizabeth Edwards all the more central to any hope that John Edwards has of one day reviving a political career.

BLITZER: And -- and you know that -- you point out the staff -- and Gloria points out the staff.

David Bonior, a man all of us know here, a former congressman from Michigan, who was the campaign manager, often would come into THE SITUATION ROOM to go out and strongly support Senator -- Senator Edwards and make the case for Senator Edwards.

This statement that he released: "Thousands of friends of the senator's and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him. And he's let them down. They have been betrayed by his action."

You have worked on campaigns, and I -- and I assume you could appreciate how he personally feels.

CASTELLANOS: Well, the people who invested the most in you of course are the ones most disappointed.

And that's why I think Edwards' statement was a little bit of a surprise to us both. It's -- it's not as his -- has his family central. It seems to have him central.

Paul, you were pointing this out, that it's a, you can't beat me anymore -- up anymore than you already have. I have beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare?

Well, who's the victim here?

BLITZER: Yes.

BEGALA: Right. I think -- I do think he owes, most importantly, his wife a public apology, because now she's being publicly humiliated.

But he also owes David Bonior all the -- he had one of the best staffs I ever saw. David Bonior and the others who worked for him in that campaign, he owes them an apology. There's no real accountability here.

I still have to go back to my very first response here is, though, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I mean, everybody makes mistakes. The question is, you can achieve redemption and forgiveness if you first apologize and ask for forgiveness. And I don't think he's quite there yet.

Now, I...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It may take some time to get there.

BLITZER: Let's go through -- let's go through -- Gloria, I know you're still with us, still, as well.

I'm going to go through this statement one more time, and I'm going to read it slowly. And we're going to pause after each section to assess what he says, because I think it's important.

"In 2006," he writes, "I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs. I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough."

Gloria, in that statement, he's basically saying, you know what? I may have lied in denying it, but, technically, maybe it wasn't a lie because there were some falsities in "The National Enquirer" story?

BORGER: Right.

And, also, in this part of the statement, Wolf -- and I overlooked this -- he said, that he "told my wife" that he had had that liaison. So, it is perfectly plausible to think that, before he ran for the presidency, that this is something that he told Elizabeth, and that perhaps they decided to keep it to themselves, and that -- because David Bonior sure sounds like it's not something that he knew about. And he was a key staffer in that campaign.

BLITZER: Can we say, Paul, that he lied when he denied that there was anything true to this "National Enquirer" story?

BEGALA: Yes, absolutely, yes.

And this is what troubles me about this. The lesson for politicians here is, well, first, don't cheat, but, also, don't lie. I mean, when he -- when he cheated, of course, he violated his wife's trust and his marital vows to her.

But, then, when he turned and lied to all of us, then he's violated the trust with the voters, who he was trying to get their support. And I think a different model was George W. Bush when he ran. He was governor of Texas. He was running for president. He was asked again and again, have you ever used drugs? And he didn't lie.

He basically said, I'm not going to tell you. He said, it's none of your business.

I defended that, because it's not a lie. We can all -- I think a fair-minded person can infer from that, that, yes, he used drugs.

BLITZER: All right, hold on a second. Here's a McCain answering a question on this.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... denied it while on the campaign trail seeking the Democratic nomination?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't -- I don't have any comment on it.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator, yesterday, you suggested that if Saddam Hussein...

BLITZER: All right, there you saw exactly what we anticipated that Senator McCain would say.

Alex Castellanos, you said, you know, keep your mouth shut on this sensitive issue. You don't want to get involved in any significant way, and you heard what he said.

CASTELLANOS: And that was Paul's point, too. I think, the less you say, the better in a situation like this, not only because people may think you're trying to inflame the story, when you're really not, but also because it says something about you.

If you're willing to use an issue like this for your political gain, it does not reflect well on a candidate.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton was asked, Paul, a little while ago. And she had a very, very terse, what, six- or seven-second statement, in which she said, you know, her heart goes out to the family. She didn't want to comment either.

It's a no-win situation for politicians to sort of weigh in an on explosive subject like this.

BEGALA: Right.

And I think that Hillary did the right thing. I think Senator McCain did the right thing, and, you know, that you don't want to get near this thing. And if you're -- I guess I have to. I'm here. This is my job. It's not John McCain's job. It's John McCain's job to advance the issues he believes in that he would lead us on if he were president. And good for him that he did not deviate off of that.

BLITZER: Gloria, you agree that John McCain did the right thing by simply refusing to comment?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Yes. Not only do you not want to get near it. You want to run away from it. It's nothing you really should be talking about.

And I think, you know, there's more opportunity to make a mistake here for a politician, as -- as Paul was saying earlier, than -- than anything else. I think that, right now, we have to hear from -- from Edwards. It will be -- it will be interesting to see if Barack Obama says anything about this.

You know, Edwards' endorsement was very important to Barack Obama. It came at a time when he was still in this tight race with Hillary Clinton. They were both courting John Edwards very assiduously. And Edwards came down on the side of Barack Obama. So, it will be interesting to see what he says about this.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Gloria. I want Alex and Paul to stand by as well.

I'm going to continue to read that statement to you as well. We will parse it, we will assess it, and we will move on.

But there's other news we're watching as well -- don't want to neglect that -- including a major, major development, Russian tanks rolling into the neighboring Republic of Georgia, threatening U.S. interests, including oil, even the war in Iraq, the Bush administration very concerned, fearing all-out war. We will speak with the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Stand by for that.

And children scarred by some of the worst terror acts of recent years, they find a unique place to heal.

And a statement coming in from John Edwards, which we have been reading you, now admitting that he did in fact lie about having an affair. We are going to hear from John Edwards' former communications director. He's standing by live as well.

Stay with us -- a busy Friday here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Major story developing involving Russia, today launching air and ground attacks on the neighboring Republic of Georgia, tensions boiling over, as troops from both countries engage in deadly fighting. And that is threatening American interests as well. And Georgia is now asking the U.S. government to airlift its 2,000 troops in Iraq, to get them back home from Iraq to help fight Russia.

Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this story for us.

The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, she is speaking out right now.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. She's speaking out, and she's telling Russia, pull back your troops. It's a difficult situation, a dangerous one on the ground.

Let's take a look at the maps here. This is the former Soviet Union, of which Georgia was a part. Then they became two countries, Russia and Georgia. There have been a lot of tensions between these two countries.

BLITZER: With the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991.

VERJEE: Exactly. Exactly.

Now, a major flash point between the two has been this region called South Ossetia. Separatists there want to break away from Georgia and become part of Russia. So, that's really the issue at hand here and that is what has been causing the fighting.

Let's take a look at what happened today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Russian tanks roll into the Republic of Georgia, its warplanes bombing inside Georgia. Now Georgia, a U.S. ally, wants its troops airlifted from Iraq to battle Russian forces back home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... is beyond what I could have imagined. This is really way too much. And, if this thing is -- if they get away with this in Georgia, the world will be in trouble.

VERJEE: The U.S. fears being dragged into an all-out war between Russia and Georgia. President Bush raised concerns with the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in Beijing.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is calling for a cease-fire, and demanding Russia stand down, saying: "We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia's territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil."

The flare-up over the small province of South Ossetia -- separatist rebels are fighting to break away from Georgia and become part of Russia. Breaking a cease fire, they attacked Georgian forces, triggering a harsh Georgian military price.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says, Russia was forced to step in when its soldiers were killed inside Georgia. Medvedev says: "Georgia's acts have caused loss of life, including among Russian peacekeepers. We will not allow the death of our fellow citizens to go unpunished. The perpetrators will receive the punishment they deserve."

As a U.S. envoy prepares to travel to the region to mediate, the U.S. presidential candidates are already weighing in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am extremely concerned about...

VERJEE: And Senator Barack Obama went even further, saying:

OBAMA: I wholeheartedly condemn the violation of Georgia's sovereignty.

VERJEE: NATO and the West have been courting Georgia, a former Soviet republic which has angered Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does not want to see Georgia join NATO or be the self-professed Western forepost in the post-Soviet space.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: There are about 130 U.S. troops in Georgia. What they're doing is training Georgian troops deployed to go to Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Zain, for that.

Practically since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Washington has been fearing a scenario like the one playing out right now between Georgia and Russia, with a lot at stake for the region, for the United States, indeed, for the entire world.

Let's get some analysis from the former defense secretary, former us Senator William Cohen. He runs The Cohen Group, a consulting firm here in Washington.

You know, I hate to use the cliche, but it is. This is a potential nightmare for the U.S.

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's a very explosive situation.

You have to recall that President Putin, former President Putin...

BLITZER: Now prime minister.

COHEN: ... now prime minister, said the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the breakup of the Soviet empire. And they have resented -- Russia has resented this breakup. And they have put peacekeepers in this region.

And I think they have been looking for an opportunity to try and wean the -- the people back into the Soviet -- under the Soviet flag, so to speak, but the Russian flag now.

And you have Georgia, by contrast, is trying to bring these breakaway republics. You have both Ossetia, and you also have Abkhazia. Both of them tend to be pro-Russian in sentiment. So, you have the president of Georgia trying to bring them back. And the Russians are resisting that and now looking for ways to pull them back into the Russian...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, if you're the U.S. right now, and you're watching this, and you really feel this is Russian aggression on sovereign Georgian soil, how far should the U.S. go in making that opposition clear?

COHEN: I think you have to be very strong and send the signal to the Russians that you are now invading and into another country's territory, sovereign territory.

You may recall that Russia faced a situation where the Chechnyans wanted to break away from -- from Russia. And they came in and they crushed Grozny. They absolutely leveled that city, and with very little outcry coming from the international community, compared to what they had done.

So, they want to use force to keep their provinces in -- under the Russian flag, but they're also trying to use their muscle now to discourage any of the republics from staying within Georgia. So, they're trying to draw them in.

BLITZER: All right. Now, you're a former defense secretary. There are 2,000 American citizens, we're told, right now in Georgia. And the Pentagon's got contingency plans for getting them out, an airlift or whatever. But, if this is a very violent situation, that's easier said than done. What do you do?

COHEN: All the more reason to persuade the Russians that they have to cease-fire right now, have a truce imposed immediately to get their forces out, to go to the Security Council, and make sure that the Security Council takes whatever action it can. Obviously, Russia being a member of that Security Council, is going to have its say.

But the international community has to move very quickly, so this doesn't spill out of control.

BLITZER: And this -- this will only give ammunition to John McCain's call to -- to remove Russia from the G8.

COHEN: Well, you have the other situation where we have recognized -- or at least supported Georgia's enter into NATO. If they were a member of NATO today...

BLITZER: There could be a world war.

COHEN: ... then we have a situation where, under the Article 5 of the NATO charter, we would then be required to defend Georgia against Russia. So, we have got a lot at stake here. And, so, cooler heads have to prevail. The Russians have to get out. And we have to have some sort of a cease-fire imposed.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does, cooler heads do prevail.

Secretary Cohen, thank you very much.

COHEN: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: More on the breaking news we're following as well: John Edwards now admitting he did indeed have an affair. James Carville standing by -- he's going to weigh in on this very sensitive subject.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to check in with James Carville, our Democratic strategist, here in THE SITUATION ROOM to get his reaction to this bombshell acknowledgement today by former Senator John Edwards that he did, in fact, back in 2006, have an extramarital affair.

When you heard about this, James, what did you think?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I wasn't very surprised.

It was pretty evident from the story in "The Enquirer" that something was amiss here. But I think, any time you hear something like this, you think about Mrs. Edwards and you think about children. I mean, this is -- this can't be an easy time for his family.

But this is politics. And this is what happened. But I can't say I was actually surprised that he said that this had happened. It was pretty clear that they had him, you know, pretty cold to rights there.

BLITZER: Because "The National Enquirer" had been reporting this now for the past several weeks. And it had been way out there on the Internet. A lot of others had been picking it up, although, for the most part, the national news media stayed away from this story, given the denials from John Edwards, given the denial from the woman involved in this extramarital affair, Rielle Hunter, as well.

Have you had a chance to dissect the lengthy statement that John Edwards just released moments ago?

CARVILLE: Well, I have been -- actually been watching CNN and watching our coverage of it, which I think has been excellent. I thought Paul and Gloria both really made a good point, that no politician really wants to get around this. And if it wouldn't be that -- and Paul made a good point. If I didn't work here, I wouldn't be talking about it either, which I -- I second his thoughts.

But, yes, these things never sound very good when -- when they come out. And I thought the most interesting thing was is that Mrs. Edwards knew about this back in 2006.

BLITZER: Well, no, no. That's -- she knew about it. It's not exactly clear from the statement that he told her back in 2006. He -- it's sort of vague in the statement.

He says: "With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006. And, today, I take full responsibility publicly."

So, it's unclear that 2006 was referring to his actions, which he says took place in 2006, or that's when he told Mrs. Edwards.

CARVILLE: Well, that's a good point. I -- the way it came across to me, that he knew.

But this thing will be dissected. It's -- it's unfortunate for his family. But, you know, when you make a decision that you're going to run for president, and you have something like this in your past, it -- you have got to be ready for it to come up.

BLITZER: Were you surprised that -- if he did, in fact, have this affair in 2006, he then decided last year and part of this year to actually run for president?

CARVILLE: Not -- no, I can't say I was surprised. And I think, if everybody that ever ran for president that had an affair didn't run for president, we might be short three or four presidents here, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, you worked closely with -- you worked closely with Bill Clinton, that we all -- we're all very familiar with that history.

CARVILLE: Right. And, obviously, I have gone through something like this.

I'm -- you know, people are human beings. And, you know, he didn't steal anything. He didn't start a war. He didn't do anything like that. I kind of feel for his family.

But you knew, once the story came out in "The National Enquirer" that there was probably there. I'm not surprised at this, but I do feel bad for Senator Edwards' family. And he did a human thing, and he didn't want to fess up to it. And I can completely understand that.

BLITZER: Did you see that very strong statement that David Bonior, the former congressman from Michigan, his former campaign manager, put out? "Thousands of friends of the senator's and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him. And he's let them down. They have been betrayed by his action."

CARVILLE: You know, I know David Bonior. He's a very passionate man, as I recall. He's a former seminarian.

And he put a lot of sweat equity in this race, if you will. And he put a lot behind. And I think that -- that David thought that John Edwards put a lot of people at risk by this -- by this kind of behavior. But I can understand that. My personal reaction wouldn't -- wouldn't have been as strong as his.

But I don't know. I'm not in his shoes, and I didn't take that much time out of my life do what he did. And I know one thing about David Bonior is, if he said it, that's what he really believes.

BLITZER: He believes there was an act of betrayal here; there's no doubt about that.

All right, James... (CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... understand that.

BLITZER: Thanks, very much, James Carville joining us.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File." And it's on this subject.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, same subject, yes.

The question is whether John Edwards' political career now is over. And we have gotten thousands of e-mails from folks who have some thoughts on this subject.

Stephanie in Philadelphia writes: "I think politicians' private lives should remain private. If we persist in uncovering every detail about candidates' sex lives, we will limit our supply of good candidates," something James Carville was just suggesting. "In today's climate, FDR would not be elected, and he might not even have been willing to run. No one is without skeletons in the closet. Unless they are acting feloniously, I don't want to know."

Roger in Baltimore says: "The morality issue is between John and Elizabeth Edwards. But the man was willing to risk having his party lose the election, had he been nominated, and then this story come out shortly before the election. His supposed commitment to the poor wasn't really his first priority after all."

Mary in Pennsylvania: "I don't know if it's over, but, as a former supporter and contributor to his campaign, I am certainly disappointed and don't know if I could trust him again. He presented himself as a loving, devoted husband and father. Makes me wonder how else he might have misrepresented himself. His wife and family certainly deserved better."

Kelly in Des Moines, Iowa: "I don't think John Edwards career is over at all. It proves he is nothing more than a normal guy to me. I don't necessarily condone the action, but you have to look no further than President Clinton to see that there's still a light at the end of the tunnel for John Edwards. Edwards was a candidate for president, as Clinton was the president itself. Bill Clinton is just fine, and is possibly more popular than he was before the incident with Monica Lewinsky. I believe John Edwards will be just fine as well."

Sharon in Virginia writes: "Mr. Edwards has joined Newt Gingrich and other heels in the adultery hall of fame. Sorry, I meant shame. It's bad enough to cheat, but, when your wife is battling a life- threatening disease? Sorry, John. Join Newt. It's over."

And Elaine writes from West Virginia: "Let me see if I understand this. Russia is attacking another country right now, and we're worried about John Edwards and his zipper? What a world."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there. There are hundreds of others posted for you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not -- not surprised, Jack. Thanks very much.

And we're standing by. We will be speaking with John Edwards' former campaign communications chief. That's coming up.

But let's check up in on some other news that we're following right now.

Images of terror in the 21st century, attacks on the World Trade Center, European trains and subways, suicide bombings, they have left deep emotional scars on the children related to the victims. Now some of them are trying to come together to heal at a one-of-a-kind camp.

Mary Snow visited that camp. She is joining us now live.

Mary, this is an important story for -- for people who want to understand the victims of these kinds of attacks.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf.

We met about four dozen teenagers, all with different backgrounds, all touched by terrorism. They met in Pennsylvania this week, coming face to face for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): This exercise may appear to have nothing to do with battling terrorism, but, for these kids, it's a step toward building trust.

They are the children of 9/11, the bombings in Madrid and in London, and victims of terrorism in Israel. Each had a family member killed or seriously wounded. For the first time, they have been brought together in a camp caught Project Common Bond.

They share the mundane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all like swimming.

SNOW: And then there's the reason they have traveled to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all lost someone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess that needs to gets added to the list. Everyone lost someone.

SNOW: Martin Hart was 17 when his father was killed in the London bombing three years ago. He left the subway that was attacked, only to be blown up by a suicide bomber on a bus.

MARTIN HART, CAMPER, PROJECT COMMON BOND: If it's a normal situation, it's hard, but, in terrorism, it just tears a family apart. But you have just got to stay strong.

SNOW: Staying strong means addressing their anger.

Carolyn Iskyan's father was killed in the World Trade Center.

CAROLYNN ISKYAN, CAMPER, PROJECT COMMON BOND: Where do you get off like just deciding one day to drive a plane into a building and killing all these people? And I was like, yes, I was angry with them. I was angry at my dad for going to work. I was angry at people for not stopping it.

SNOW (on camera): What do you do with that?

ISKYAN: I talk about it.

SNOW (voice-over): It's a bond Evyatar Alush didn't think expect to find in the United States. A terrorist shot his parents inside a toy store in Israel, killing his father and injuring his mother, who escaped with his little brother.

EVYATAR ALUSH, CAMPER, PROJECT COMMON BOND: Since I was really young, like the age of 6 when my father died, I -- I thought that terrorism is only in Israel.

SNOW: While, at times, they are just kids, the camp also aims to create a generation of leaders dedicated to fighting terrorism.

George Tarr's father was killed by rebels in Liberia's long- running civil war.

GEORGE TARR, CAMPER, PROJECT COMMON BOND: We have to understand them as well in order to like bring peace into our life and into their life as well.

SNOW: Jacob Kimchy, a counselor, considers the camp a form of revenge.

JACOB KIMCHY, COUNSELOR, PROJECT COMMON BOND:: We need to look at the terrorist and say, you didn't win. We're together now. And we're going to take it to a better place.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Tuesday's Children, a group dedicated to 9/11 families, organized the project. Organizers say the goal is to create ambassadors of goodwill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary Snow, with that story.